Helping children with learning disabilities build social skills and relationships can have lasting influence on their overall success. Strong friendships are also important for their self-esteem and sense of belonging. Here are some ways you can support them in this area.
1. Making friends with extra-curricular activities
Surprisingly, many children in special education programs do not participate in extracurricular activities, and they miss this important social skills teaching opportunity. Help your child discover his strengths and interests to help him choose the right place for him to learn social skills. Whatever your child enjoys, it is likely there are opportunities to teach social skills in your community and for him to join with others. For social skills teaching ideas, contact community resources such as the local library.
2. Organized activities help teach how to make friends
Your child will benefit from social skills teaching inherent in social interaction outside the school setting. With your encouragement, even reluctant or shy children can be taught social skills through interaction with others through activities. Many relationships he builds will flow naturally back into the school environment. Just as importantly, non-disabled students will have the opportunity to see your child in successful roles outside of school and get to know him as a friend, rather than an acquaintance.
3. Building friendships in easy-to-manage steps
Teach your child social skills needed to develop friendships in small, easy steps. Social skills may not come easily for her. Children with disabilities may feel intimidated by other kids, and they may find it too uncomfortable to try to reach out to them. Help your child work on these social skills by setting small goals. Ask your child to smile and greet one new child each day. Just say, “Hi.” This is often enough to reduce the pressure and begin some conversations that build toward relationships. Each night, have a friendly chat about his day, and talk about how many people he spoke to.
4. Making friends takes practice
Teach social skills by rehearsing social situations ahead of time. Role plays meeting a new person with each other. Take turns being the greeter and “greetee.” Teach your child the art of getting others to talk about themselves. Help him see that by doing this, he can learn about his peers and find common interests. Kids can use friendly, polite questions to encourage kids to talk and break the ice. Focusing on others will also help your child feel less self-conscious. Help your child learn how to choose good friends to develop healthy relationships.
5. Game and sportsmanship can teach making friends in advance
Teach your child social skills needed to make friends by helping him learn and practice games and activities at home that are popular at school. Aside from being a good way to practice skills such as reading, counting, and fitness, learning these games will help your child participate in them with other children, while reducing the impact of his learning disability on his ability to play. He will feel more confident and enjoy his interaction with others if he knows the games and can play them with some skill. Consider making your house the hangout for outdoor fun.
6. Schedule fun time to make social skills and making friends a priority
Create a circle of friends by encouraging playtime with a few neighbourhood children. Invest in some quality time and snacks and you’ll cultivate friendships that may stay with your child throughout high school, maybe even for life. Friends from the same class at school can provide important social and emotional support, and not to mention, occasional homework help when a worksheet or assignment fails to make it from school to your house.
By Ann Logsdon, school psychologist.